Investigation of the Live Word, by Taego Pou

Son (Zen) Master Taego Pou (1301-1382)

Translated from the Korean by Stephen and Martine Batchelor

HUA-T’OU: (Lit. ‘head of speech’). Has a twofold meaning: (i) the essence of the kung-an, a shortened version of the story or situation; (ii) the source of thought; that which exists before one thought has arisen (thoughts being the mind’s external manifestations — the ‘tail of speech’).

Fuji from the Katakura Tea Fields in Suruga.

A monk asked Chao Chou [Jap. Joshu], ‘Does a dog also have the Buddha nature, or not?’ Chao Chou replied, ‘Mu (No).’ This Mu is not the Mu of yes or no; it is not the Mu of true nonexistence. Ultimately what is it? To reach that place from where Chao Chou said Mu one must straightaway lay down the entire body.

Do not do anything (good or bad) and do not even do this not-doing; then straightaway one reaches that place where there is no concern for external affairs, that vast and peaceful place where there are absolutely no obstructing thoughts.

There, all thoughts of the past are, extinguished, all thoughts of the future do not arise, and all present thoughts are void.

Kawanabe Kyosai (Japanese, 1831–1889) Shakyamuni Conquering the Demons (Shaka Goma-zu), ca. 1888 Japan, Meiji period (1868–1912) Album leaf mounted as a hanging scroll; ink and color on silk; 14 1/2 x 11 in. (36.8 x 27.9 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Charles Stewart Smith Collection, Gift of Mrs. Charles Stewart Smith, Charles Stewart Smith Jr., and Howard Caswell Smith, in memory of Charles Stewart Smith, 1914 (, this void-ness is also not to be maintained. This non-maintenance (of the void) is also to be forgotten, and this forgetting is also not to be legitimized; further, free your­self from this non-legitimizing. At the time when even the idea of getting free is not preserved, only the alert yet calm light from the spirit will appear prominently before oneself. Do not falsely give rise to intellec­tion or discriminative understanding; only give rise to the hua-t’ou. In the twelve time-periods of the day and in all the four postures (going, standing, sitting, lying), moment after moment, do not let it become dull. Diligently and carefully observe it. If one continues investigating in this manner — keeping the hua-t’ou firmly whether coming or going — then gradually the inquiry will improve. Eventually one is thoroughly satisfied with only examining carefully how this idea to say Mu arose in Chao Chou’s mind. Like a mouse entering a cow’s horn1, one reaches the point where words are cut off. When one who is of sharp roots reaches that place, he opens, and breaks the lac­quer barrel (of ignorance). He apprehends and defeats Chao Chou, and has no further doubts about the tongue-tips of en­lightened men. Although there is such an awakening, he should be careful not to talk about it in front of those lacking in wisdom. He must meet with a certified Master and check upon the ultimacy of his achieve­ment. Among ten (who have had an awakening but have not had it certified by a Master), five may well end up possessed by Mara. I implore you to take account of what I say.

Since we know that imperma­nence is swift and that the affair of birth and death is great, we search for Masters to ask about the Path of practice. This is truly what a great man must do. But who actually is the one who knows that he is, in this manner, dying and being reborn within impermanence? Who actually is the one who searches for a Teacher to ask about the Path? It is said that the appearance of anyone reaching this understanding and who is of clear discernment, is quite unique; his splendid brightness shines in all the ten directions. He is one to whom we should make offerings and one whom we should approach closely.

Do not act with the mind, the intellect, or consciousness in regards to the ‘four prop­ositions’ (i.e. existence, nonexistence, both existence and nonexistence, and neither existence nor nonexistence), re­straining your potential and arresting your thoughts. If you try to stop your thoughts, then, to the contrary, (the functioning of the mind) only becomes is the one who searches?! rapid and estranged. It is better to keep investigating on the huo-chu (live word).2

Shakyamuni Conquering the Demons Didn’t you see? A monk asked Chao Chou, ‘Does a dog also have the Buddha nature, or not?’ Chao Chou replied, ‘Mu.’ This Mu is not the Mu of yes or no; it is not the Mu of true nonexistence. What meaning does it have? If you give rise to the huo-chu and then under­stand, you are completely fin­ished. If you cannot break the doubt, you must only focus your attention on that place where the doubt is not broken. Only give rise to this word Mu; investigate and examine it. Throughout the four postures and twelve time-periods of the day do not let it become dull. If through investigation and detailed examination the doubt is pierced, then you have met Chao Chou. At that time you should see a certified Master.

Alas, I have spoken too much! A verse says:

The mind of Chao Chou when he said Mu was very good. You should urgently investigate and examine it.

If when investigating, you cannot comprehend anything about it, this will then manifest the doubt-mass.

At that place where feelings are depleted and all is forgot­ten, what face does Chao Chou have?

If you give rise to any other thought, the Way to Shu before you will be difficult.

1. In the Southern regions, when people want to catch a rat, they put oil in a cow-horn; in its greed for the oil, the rat will enter the horn without any thought of getting caught and get stuck inside the horn. Similarly the practitioner is only concerned with Enlightenment, not with whether he dies or not in training.

2. Those remarks within which one finds some understandable content are called ssu-chu, ‘dead-words’, and those within which no other sense can be found are called huo-chu, ‘live-words’. The dead-words in this case are the koan story; the live-word is just the ‘Mu’ itself.

Categories: Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen, Encyclopedia, Martine Batchelor, Stephen Batchelor

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2 replies

  1. Mu filled with love to you Stephen and Martine Bachelor on this translation!

  2. I like this Mu!


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